Leaders of Canada's four major parties continued their tours and speeches across the country on Thursday, bringing into full swing the election campaign which will culminate in a vote on Jan. 23.
Devoting their first days of campaigning to the most populous provinces of Quebec and Ontario, the leaders have launched several gatherings in such big cities as Toronto and Montreal, appearing now and again on local televisions.
On Thursday, the Liberal Party, Conservative Party, Bloc Quebecois and New Democratic Party (NDP) agreed to hold twice the number of televised debates compared with the last campaign, with two in English and another two in French.
The first debate will be held in Vancouver on Dec. 15 in French, followed by an English one on the next day. The second set of debates, in either Gatineau or Montreal, will be on Jan. 9 in English and the following day in French. Each debate is to last for two hours.
Prime Minister Paul Martin kicked off the election campaign Tuesday after his government was toppled Monday night by three opposition parties, which argued that the Liberal Party did not have the moral authority to govern because of a scandal implicating some of its senior members in kickbacks and misuse of federal funds.
As the leaders talk more, policy priorities for their parties have become increasingly clear. In his first comments following the election call on Tuesday, Conservative leader Stephen Harper stressed that he would bring change to the country, appealing to the voters' desire for freshness after a 13-year Liberal rule.
A Conservative government would reduce taxes, get tough on crime and clean up corruption by establishing an accountability office. It would also revisit the same-sex marriage debate and try to bring back the conventional definition of marriage, Harper vowed.
In his appeal to voters, Liberal leader Paul Martin repeatedly referred to the country's strong economy under the Liberals' rule, which has seen unemployment at a 30-year low and the government enjoying a budget surplus.
Among the things Martin promised are more money for child care and education, a plan to reduce income taxes, a deficit cut, eight surpluses in a row, and more jobs.
Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, meanwhile, stuck to his core issue as he continued to hammer the ousted Liberals over the sponsorship scandal and stressed its sovereigntist stand. And Socialist NDP leader Jack Layton sought to bolster his party's credibility by focusing on the influence it wielded upon Martin's short-lived government.
The 56-day campaign, the longest in the country's history, is promised to be a hotly-contested one as results of a new poll showed the two main parties, the Liberals and Conservatives, to be neck-and-neck.
According to a poll by Ipsos-Reid for CanWest Global, 31 percent of respondents would vote for the Liberal Party, while 31 percent would support the Conservative Party.
The poll showed that the NDP is third with 18 percent, followed by the Bloc Quebecois with 14 percent and the Green party with 5 percent.
As Canadian parties do not have the tradition of forming a coalition, the chance for any party to gain a majority is slim. Be it a Liberal one or a Conservative one, the result is most likely to be another minority government, observers said.